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Behavioural psychology master’s degree guide

If you’re fascinated by human behaviour, a masters in behavioural psychology could suit you. This guide explains what postgraduate study in the subject is, what qualifications you could get and what courses are like.


What is a behavioural psychology master’s degree?

Behavioural psychology is the study of the mind and how it links with behaviour. It searches for patterns in our actions to predict how we could behave, with the aim of finding ways to:

  • Improve our habits
  • Enhance our communities
  • Develop better products

It looks at the minds and behaviours of animals too.

You can study this specific area at undergraduate level and progress to postgraduate study, or you could come from a broader psychology degree. Many students are already in employment and study the subject to inform their work.

Whichever background you come from, the step up to postgraduate study means you can dig deeper into the area and become a specialist.


Why do a master’s degree in behavioural psychology?

Study this subject to further explore your interests in behavioural psychology. You’ll be taught by experts and have the chance to get involved with emerging research areas. If you choose a research course, you could complete a large piece of original work that contributes to the field of behavioural science.

As well as building your expertise of how to understand, predict and influence human behaviour, you’ll develop transferable skills such as:

  • Analytical thinking
  • Communication
  • IT literacy
  • Organisation
  • Presentation
  • Problem-solving
  • Research

Courses are often accredited by organisations like:

  • British Association of Behavioural and Cognitive Psychotherapies (BABCP)
  • British Psychological Society (BPS)

These offer graduate benefits like networking events and training opportunities.


What qualifications can you get?

Options include masters, doctorates, certificates and diplomas in behavioural psychology. Each one has a slightly different focus and style of teaching.

Taught masters in behavioural psychology

The most common master’s degree is the Master of Science (MSc). It’s usually a taught course, where you attend lectures and seminars to learn about related disciplines of behavioural psychology.

Research in behavioural psychology

Research and doctorate degrees are usually Master of Philosophy (MPhil) or Doctor of Philosophy (PhD). They let you spend a significant amount of time researching into the field of behavioural psychology, where you have more independence than on a master's course. You explore your specific areas of interest with guidance from an academic supervisor.

Certificates and diplomas in behavioural psychology

Postgraduate certificates (PGCert) and postgraduate diplomas (PGDip) are shorter versions of a master’s course. They are often useful for professionals looking to deepen their knowledge without having to commit to a full degree.

What jobs can you do with a master’s degree in behavioural psychology?

A degree in this area will make you suitable for various roles across the public, private, NGO and academic sectors. Graduates go into careers such as:

  • Academic researchers
  • Behavioural science consultants
  • Computer programmers
  • Human resource managers
  • Market researchers
  • Policy officers
  • Teachers and educators
  • Therapists and counsellors
  • User experience (UX) designers

Many students continue their studies and complete a doctorate degree in a related area.


What are the behavioural psychology master’s degree requirements?

To qualify for a master’s course, you’ll usually need:

  • MSc – bachelor’s degree (or equivalent) with upper second-class honours (2:1) in a behavioural or social science

Depending on the course and university, you might need relevant work experience and to demonstrate a strong interest in the area. Health and background checks might be required if your course involves working with the public.

For other postgraduate courses, you’ll usually need:

  • PGCert/PGDip – same as for a masters
  • MPhil/PHD – same as for a masters along with high merit (+65) in a relevant master’s degree (or equivalent). You may need to submit a research proposal

What behavioural psychology courses are there?

Examples of postgraduate degrees in behavioural psychology on offer in the UK:

  • Animal Behaviour MSc
  • Behavioural Science MSc
  • Cognitive Behavioural Therapy PGCert/PGDip
  • Psychological and Behavioural Science MPhil/PhD

Some psychology conversion courses may be available.

What do you learn in a behavioural psychology master’s degree?

Areas you could be taught in or choose to focus your research efforts on include:

  • Behaviour change
  • Communication
  • Evolutionary psychology
  • Health and community
  • Organisational psychology
  • Social psychology


How will you be taught and assessed?

If you’re on a taught course (MSc/PGCert/PGDip), you could learn through lectures, seminars, practical sessions, lab placements, group work and workshops. Assessment could be through coursework, research projects, presentations and exams.

If you pursue a research degree (MPhil/PhD), you’ll be guided by a supervisor but receive less support than on a taught course. You’ll be assessed on your independent research project (thesis) and accompanying oral exam (viva).


How long is a master’s degree in behavioural psychology?

It depends on your chosen course. Generally, full-time courses last:

  • MSc – one to two years
  • MPhil – one to two years
  • PhD – three to four years
  • PGCert – around 15 weeks or one term
  • PGDip – around 30 weeks or two terms

Part-time courses can last twice as long. 

Similar subjects to behavioural psychology

Other related subjects you could study include:

  • Anthropology
  • Clinical psychology
  • Cognitive psychology
  • Counselling and psychotherapy
  • Criminology
  • Neuroscience
  • Sociology 

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